Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Miriam
Rashi, living in Troyes, France, in the latter half of the 11th century, was one of Judaism’s greatest scholars.Troyes at the time had a vibrant Jewish community, full of scholars, but also traders, vintners, and estate owners. Anton’s books (the first focused on the elder daughter, Joheved) immerse us in this rich culture, with a focus on Rashi’s three very learned daughters. There was debate at the time about whether girls should be taught Torah, and Rashi was not following the norm in teaching his daughters. Miriam, the central character of this volume, has trained to become a midwife, like her aunt. She also has the opportunity to train as a mohel, the person (almost always a man) who performs circumcisions, because no male in the community steps forward when one is needed. The text is liberally studded with writings from the Talmud, as characters learn and debate various teachings.
The text is also laden with knowledge and beliefs of the time, both general and religious. Miriam’s immersion into the medical world, both as midwife and mohel-in-training, allows the author opportunities to include the current understanding of medical matters, such as the characteristics of foods that should, or shouldn’t, be eaten given certain illnesses or medical conditions. Miriam’s husband is a Talmud scholar, and a theme throughout this volume is the relationships that form between study partners. A timeline, map, afterword, glossary, and website all provide excellent supplementary information. These books (best read in order) provide a fascinating glimpse into another world.
Trudi E. Jacobson